Cosmas (3), surnamed Indicopleustes (Indian navigator), a native of Egypt, probably of Alexandria (lib. ii. 114, vi. 264), originally a merchant (lib. ii. 132, iii. 178, xi. 336), who flourished about the middle of the 6th cent. In pursuit of his mercantile business he navigated the Mediterranean, Red Sea, and Persian Gulf, also visiting India and Ceylon. His travels enabled Cosmas to collect a large store of information respecting not only the countries he visited, but also the more remote lands whose merchants he met. Weary of the world and its gains, he resigned his occupation as a merchant, and, embracing a monastic life, devoted his leisure to authorship, enriching his writings with descriptions of the countries he had visited and with facts he had observed or learned from others. He was no retailer of travellers' wonders, and later researches have proved that his descriptions are as faithful as his philosophy is absurd. His Christian Topography (12 books) is his only work which has survived; the last book is deficient in the Vatican MS. and imperfect in the Medicean. The work was not all published at one time, nor indeed originally planned in its present extent; but gradually grew as book after book was added by him at the request of his friends, or to meet the objections of the opponents of his theory. The proximate date, a.d. 547, for the earlier books is afforded by the statement (lib. ii. 140) that, when he wrote, 25 years had elapsed since the expedition of Elesbaon, king of the Axiomitae, against the Homeritae, which Pagi ad ann. dates a.d. 522. The later works were written about 113 years subsequently. Near the end of lib. x. he speaks of the recent death of Timotheus, patriarch of Alexandria, a.d. 536, and mentions his heretical successor Theodosius, a.d. 537.
The chief design of the Christian Topography is "to confute the impious heresy of those who maintain that the earth is a globe, and not a flat oblong table, as is represented in the Scriptures" (Gibbon, Decline and Fall, c. xlvii. § i. note i.). The old objections of the Epicureans are revived, and the plane surface is not circular as with Thales, but a parallelogram twice as long as broad, surrounded by the ocean. Its length from E. to W. is 12,000 miles; its breadth from N. to S. 6,000. The parallelogram is symmetrically divided by four gulfs; the Caspian (which joins the Ocean), the Arabian (Red Sea), the Persian, and that of the Romans (Mediterranean). Beyond the ocean, on each side of the interior continent, lies another land, in which is the Garden of Eden. Here men lived till the Deluge, when Noah and his family crossed the intervening flood in the Ark, and peopled the present world. The rivers of Paradise he supposes to run under the sea, Alpheus-like, and to reappear in our earth. The Nile is the Gihon of Eden. The whole area is surrounded by lofty perpendicular walls, from the summit of which the sky stretches from N. to S. in a cylindrical vault, meeting similar vaults at either extremity (lib. iv. 186, 187). Our author divides this huge vaulted chamber into lower, second, and third stories. The dead occupy the nethermost division; the middle compartment is the home of the living; the uppermost, that of the blessed. Heaven is divided from the lower regions by a solid firmament, through which Christ penetrated—and that is the Kingdom of Heaven (lib. iv. 186–188). The vicissitudes of day and night are caused by a mountain of enormous bulk, rising at the N. extremity of the oblong area. Behind this the sun passes in the evening, and reappears on the other side in the morning. The conical shape of the mountain produces the variation in the length of the night; as the sun rises higher above, or sinks down towards the level of the earth. Eclipses are due to the same cause. The round shadow on the moon's disk is cast by the domical summit of the mountain (lib. iv. 188).
The views on cosmography thus propounded absurd and irrational as they appear to us were those generally entertained by the Fathers of the church. Pinning their faith on the literal meaning of the words of Scripture according to its traditional interpretation they deduced a system which had for them all the authority of a divine revelation any departure from which was regarded as impious and heretical. The arguments by which Cosmas supports his theory are chiefly built on isolated passages of Scripture as interpreted by the early Fathers. Some however are drawn from reason and the nature of the case—e.g the absurdity of the supposition of the existence of antipodean regions inasmuch as the beings on the other side of the world must drop off and the rain would fall upwards instead of downwards; while the supposed rotatory motion of the universe is disproved by the disturbance that would be caused to the repose of the blessed in heaven by their being perpetually whirled through space. Cosmas denounces as heretics those who following the false lights of science venture to maintain opposite views and speaks in terms of strongest condemnation of "men who assume the name of Christians and yet in contempt of Holy Scripture join with the pagans in asserting that the heavens are spherical. Such assertions are among the weapons hurled at the church. Inflamed by pride as if they were wiser than others they profess to explain the movements of the heavens by geometrical and astronomical calculations" (lib. i. Prolog.). One of his strongest arguments in support of his plan of the universe is drawn from the form of the Tabernacle of Witness which the words ἅγιον κοσμικόν (Heb_9:1
) warrant him in considering to have been like Noah's Ark expressly constructed as an image of the world.
The subjects of the 12 books are: (1) Against those who claim to be Christians, and assert with pagans that the earth is spherical. (2) The Christian hypothesis as to the figure and position of the universe proved from Scripture. (3) The agreement on these points of the O.T. and N.T. (4) A brief recapitulation, and a description of the figure of the universe according to Scripture, and a confutation of the sphere. (5) A description of the Tabernacle and the agreement of the Prophets and Apostles. (6) The magnitude of the sun (7) The duration of the heavens. (8) Hezekiah's song, and the retrogression of the sun. (9) The course of the stars. (10) Testimonies of the Fathers, including 11 citations from the Festal Epistles of Athanasius, and other important Patristic fragments. (11) A description of the animals of India, and of the island of Ceylon. (12) Testimonies of heathen writers to the antiquity of Holy Scripture.
Setting aside the absurdities of his cosmographical system Cosmas is one of the valuable geographical writers of antiquity. His errors were those of his age, and rest chiefly on his reverence for the traditional interpretation of the Bible. But he was an acute observer and vivid describer, and his good faith is unquestionable. He seems well acquainted with the Indian peninsula, and names several places on its coast. He describes it as the chief seat of the pepper trade, of which he gives a very rational account, and mentions Mali, in which Montfaucon recognizes the origin of Malabar, as much frequented by traffickers in that spice. He furnishes a detailed account of the island of Taprobana (Ceylon), which he calls Sielidiba, then the principal centre of trade between China (he calls the Chinese Τζινίτζαι ) and the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, where the merchants exchanged their costly wares, and the nations of the East obtained the advantages of commercial intercourse, which rapidly increased and had in his time assumed considerable importance. The connexion between Persia and India was at that time evidenced by the existence of a large number of Christian churches, both on the coast of India and the islands of Socotra and Ceylon, served by priests and deacons ordained by the Persian archbp. of Seleucia and subject to his jurisdiction, which had produced multitudes of faithful martyrs and monks (lib. iii. 179). These congregations appear to be identical with the Malabar Christians of St. Thomas. His 11th book contains a very graphic. and faithful description of the more remarkable animal and vegetable productions of India and Ceylon, the rhinoceros, elephant, giraffe, hippopotamus, etc., the cocoa-nut tree, pepper tree, etc.
His remarks on Scripture manifest a not altogether uncommon mixture of credulity and good sense. He mentions that to the discomfiture of unbelievers the marks of the chariot wheels of the Egyptians were still visible at Clysma where the Israelites crossed the Red Sea (v. 194); but he explains the supposed miraculous preservation of the garments of the Israelites (Deu_29:5
) as meaning no more than that they lacked nothing since merchants visited them from adjacent countries with clothing and with the wheat of which the shewbread was made (v. 205). The catholic epistles he plainly relegates to the "Amphilegomena," making the erroneous statement. that such was the universal ancient tradition and that no early expositor comments upon them. The Ep. to the Hebrews he ascribes to St. Paul and asserts that it as well as the Gospel of St. Matt. was rendered into Gk. by St. Luke or St. Clement. Cosmas preserves a monument of very considerable historical value consisting of two inscriptions relating to Ptolemy Euergetes b.c. 247–222 and an unnamed king of the Axumitae of later date. These were copied by him from the originals at the entrance of the city of Adule an Aethiopian port on the Red Sea; the former from a wedge-shaped block of basanite or touch-stone standing behind a white marble chair dedicated to Mars and ornamented with the figures of Hercules and Mercury on which the latter inscription was engraved. Notwithstanding the different localities of the inscriptions and the fact that the third person is used in the former the first in the latter the two have been carelessly printed continuously and regarded as both relating to the conquests of Ptolemy who has been thus accredited with fabulous Aethiopian conquests. (So in Fabricius Bibl. Graec. lib. iii. 25; cf. ,Vincent Commerce ii. 533–589.) They were first distinguished from each other by Mr. Salt (Voyages and Travels to India etc. 1809 vol. iii. 192; Travels in Abyssinia 1814 p. 412) and are printed with full comments by Böckh (Corpus Inscript. Graec. 1848 vol. iii. fasc. ii. 508–514). The inscription relating to Ptolemy describes his conquest of nearly the whole of the empire of the Seleucidae in Asia which says Dean Vincent (Ancient Commerce ii. 531) "was scarcely discovered in history till this monument prompted the inquiry and was then established on proofs undeniable." Cf. Chishull Antiq. Asiat. p. 76; Niebuhr Vermischte Schriften p. 401; Letronne Matériaux pour l’hist. du Christianisme en Egypte etc. (1832) p. 401; Buttmann Mus. der Alterthumsw. ii. 1 p. 105.
A full account of this work is given by Photius (Cod. xxxvi.), under the inappropriate title Ἑρμηνεία εἰς Ὀκτάτευχον , but without the author's name. From this, Fabricius very needlessly questions whether the author was really named Cosmas, or whether that was an appellation coined to suit the subject of the work, like that of Joannes Climacus. Photius censures the homeliness of the style, which he considers hardly to approach mediocrity. But elegance or refinement of diction is not to be expected from a writer, who, in his own words (lib. ii. 124), destitute of literary training and entangled in business, had devoted his whole life to mercantile pursuits, and had to contend against the disadvantages of very infirm health and weak eyesight, incapacitating him for lengthened study. We learn from his own writings that Cosmas also wrote:
(1) A Cosmographia Universalis, dedicated to a certain Constantine (lib. i. 113), the loss of which is lamented with tears by Montfaucon.
(2) A work on the motions of the universe and the heavenly bodies, dedicated to the deacon Homologus (lib. i. 114, vii. 274).
(3) Ὑπομνήματα on the Canticles, dedicated to Theophilus (lib. vii. 300).
(4) Exposition of the more difficult parts of the Psalms (Du Cange, Gloss. Graec. s.v. Ἰνδικοπλευστής ; Bibl. Coislin. p. 244).
(Montfaucon, Collect. Nov. Pat. Gk. (Paris, 1706), vol. ii. 113–346; Gallandi, Bibl. Vet. Patr. (Ven. 1765), vol. ix.; Cave, Hist. Lit. i. 515; Fabric. Bibl. Graec. lib. iii. 25; Vincent, Commerce, ii. 505–511, 533–537, 567; Bredow, Strabo, ii. 786–797; Thevenot, Coll. des voyages, vol. i.; Gosselin, Géogr. syst. des Grecs, iii. 274; Mannert, Einleit. in der Geogr. d. Alien, 188–192; Charton, Voyages, vol. ii.)